Australia’s economy minister on Wednesday (Mar 25) called on China to drop punishing trade tariffs if it wants to thaw frozen relations, after Beijing sent a message signalling it is ready to improve ties.

China – Australia’s biggest trading partner – imposed tariffs and disrupted more than a dozen key industries, including wine, barley and coal, as relations deteriorated sharply in the past two years.

Canberra had irked Beijing by calling for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and by banning telecoms giant Huawei from building Australia’s 5G network.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said Australia felt the pain of the Chinese trade squeeze, calling for the measures to be lifted “as soon as possible”.

“They are damaging our economy. They are making life harder for some of our employers and workers here in Australia,” he told public broadcaster ABC.

“Obviously, we would like to see those measures lifted. That would be a really great start, when it comes to how we manage what is a really complex relationship, a relationship that has become more complex over time.”

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang sent a congratulatory note to newly elected Prime Minister Anthony Albanese earlier this week, the most significant high-level contact between Beijing and Canberra in at least two years.

Li’s letter said China was ready to work with Australia to “review the past, look into the future” and promote a “comprehensive strategetic partnership”, the state-run Xinhua news agency said on Monday.